Climate change: Rising gas prices helping to make the case for onshore wind and solar | Climate News


After days of still, warm, weather, there was a biting wind down in Westminster on Thursday.

While most of us hurried on, grimacing, it must have brought a smile to the face of the renewable energy industry.

They were on their way to a roundtable meeting at Downing Street to persuade Boris Johnson of what they can do to contribute to his Energy Security Strategy.

As it started, the weather meant wind and solar were together generating more than a third of our electricity.

But the point they wanted to make to the prime minister was that it could be generating a lot more – if barriers to wind and solar farms, particularly those onshore, could be removed.

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Solar and wind growing in popularity

Polling shows that the majority of people don’t oppose wind turbines or solar panels in the neighbourhoods – and that they could be even more willing to accept them if they got a reduction on their energy bills.

A big challenge is local activists and certain MPs who have traditionally opposed them.

Under pressure to take on the so-called “green blob”, David Cameron axed public funding for onshore wind farms back in 2015 – and barely any have been built since then.

But now, the situation is very different. Wholesale electricity prices are currently around £244 per megawatt/hour
(largely due to the price of gas).

Those high prices are the main driver of the cost of living crisis, and now there’s an additional impetus to wean the nation off oil and gas imported from Russia.

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Cheap and quick to build

Wind turbines, the industry says, can make electricity for less than £50.

And compared to new gas fields, nuclear power plants or carbon capture and storage technology, they can come on stream in two to three years, rather than a decade or more.

According to the industry lobby group Renewable UK, £68m more in additional government support for offshore wind, could cut consumers’ exposure to gas prices by £1.5bn.

Numbers like that increase the chances that ministers will lean on backbenchers to allow more wind projects to get built, more quickly.

The sector is expected to be a major part of the Energy Security Strategy.

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But renewables aren’t a silver bullet. Remember the weather?

On those windless days (especially windless nights when there’s no solar power either) renewables aren’t much use.

That means we’re still going to need big investments in something like nuclear power, battery storage, hydrogen power, or probably all of the above, to keep the lights on.

The challenge gets even tougher when you consider the fact that, while renewables could quickly replace gas for generating electricity (most of the time), most of our energy still comes from gas and oil.

More than three quarters of our energy consumption in 2020 was fossil fuels, powering our 32 million petrol and diesel cars, heating 80% of our homes with gas boilers.

That’s a much bigger nut to crack, and why, for the coming years at least, we’re still going to be dependent on gas – and the high energy bills that come with it.



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